38 Popular Day Hikes in
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The National Park Service maintains more than 800 miles of trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Whether you are a novice with little-to-no hiking experience, or a 900-miler on the Appalachian Trail, the Smoky Mountains has a trail for you. Our list of 38 Popular Day Hikes helps you decide which trails suit you.
How do you know which trails are suitable for your level of experience and athleticism? Which trails have the features you want? We created a series of icons to identify specific qualities and features and assigned them to the trails.
For example, are you looking for easy day hikes? Look for the “easy” icon. Are you looking for a day hikes with waterfalls? There is an icon for that, too. You get the idea. Each trail on our list of 38 Popular Day Hikes has a photo with icons describing the trail’s features.
38 Popular Day Hikes: Trail Icons Defined
The black icons with an “e”, “m”, or “s”, describe the difficulty level of the trail: easy, moderate, or strenuous. Hiking guides differ on how they grade a trail, so we use the most common grade on our day hikes. In addition, if we have hiked the trail personally, we use our own experiences to grade it.
The trails in 38 Popular Day Hikes fall under four categories: 1) Out & Back, 2) Lollipop, 3) Loop, and 4) Point to Point. The descriptions are fairly obvious. The only one that possibly needs an explanation is the point to point. The difference between an out and back and a point to point is that hikers can start at either end of a point to point trail.
Many of the 38 Popular Day Hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park have water features. No, not like the ones built by your landscaper; God made these. We highlight 1) waterfalls, 2) cascading water, and 3) rivers, creeks, or streams.
The four red icons designate day hikes with 1) great fall foliage, 2) an abundance of wildflowers, 3) scenic views, or 4) a building of historical significance.
Horses, Dogs, and Bikes
Horses, dogs, and bikes are forbidden on nearly all the trails located inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, there are a few trails that welcome one, or all, of these. When you see these icons, you know that your dog, horse or bike is allowed on the trail.
Foot Traffic Levels
The foot traffic on the 38 Popular Day Hikes varies greatly. 1) Trails with our “single-hiker” icon are rarely crowded, and if you want to be alone on a trail, you should head for these. 2) Our “two-hikers” icon indicates that the trail is not crowded, but you should expect to see other hikers on the trail. 3) More than a thousand people a day use the most popular trails. Heavily used trails are designated by our “three-hikers” icon. If you want to hike with the masses, these trails are for you.
38 Popular Day Hikes
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is rife with hiking opportunities. With hundreds of miles of trails, you could stop just about anywhere along the roads and get on a trail. However, there is a better way to plan your hiking adventure.
We have chosen 38 popular day hikes to highlight. These trails offer an assortment of challenges, views, rivers, bridges, historical buildings, and more.
Being popular doesn’t mean easy or quick. A trail gets on the “popular day hikes” list because it is a much loved trail. It may be easy or difficult to hike.
Anyway, we hope you find a trail that entices you to put on the hiking boots, climb in the car, and get back to nature. Our 38 Popular Day Hikes is here to help.